Share the wisdom: An NQT’s guide to handling NQTs

Jane Basnett

Jane Basnett is head of MFL at Downe House, a successful Independent Girls School in Berkshire. She has been teaching for almost 20 years and is still learning. She achieved an MA in Digital Technology for Language Teaching at Nottingham University.

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Following on from Jane Basnett’s recent article on NQTs, a pastoral professional-turned newly-qualified teacher (and former colleague of Basnett’s) gives her advice to veteran teachers dealing with newcomers.

I'm about to embark on my NQT year teaching English in an 11-18 academy in the South West. Before doing the PGCE, I worked in other areas of education for four years, first in university outreach, then in a pastoral and academic role in an independent school, where I was a colleague of Jane Basnett. Following on from Jane's very welcome and gratefully received ideas in an earlier post - 'Be prepared: A veteran's advice for NQTs' - here's a view from The Other Side: an NQT's guide to handling NQTs...

1. Try to listen, rather than assume.

2. Remember that everything takes much longer to do when you're an NQT - often because they don't know where to start a task or how / where to find the necessary information. NQTs usually can't help but be inefficient and, because they may not yet know all the school's systems and routines, might need a bit of guidance with organisation.

3. Advise where shortcuts can be taken in the first few weeks: there's too much for everyone to do at this time of year, but you have the advantage of knowing what needs prioritising and what can safely be left until later. Share this wisdom!

4. Invite NQTs into your classroom - it's always a privilege to watch others teach, and lots of NQTs won't feel able to ask. Even better, provide the opportunity for them to give you feedback from observations: the sooner they develop ways of giving genuine, positive and constructive feedback to colleagues, the better (and it will help them to accept similarly genuine, positive & constructive feedback from others).

5. Try to notice if your NQT is isolating themselves in the first few weeks: if they establish a habit of hiding in their classroom all day while the rest of the department / staff room eat a quick lunch together, encourage them to join in. They might be fine, but it's difficult to know if you never see them - and if they don't get to know people early on, it will only get harder as term progresses.

6. No matter how old or otherwise experienced your NQT, they will probably still need some hand-holding through some of the tasks you think are the most basic (although they may well be fine with the more complex things!).

7. Chances are, your vast depository of departmental computer files are not as logical as you think - you've just learnt your way around (or created) the idiosyncrasies! The phrase, "If you can't find it, just ask" will be much appreciated.

8. Remember that NQTs have never done those nerve-wracking 'first lessons' in September, and might need some suggestions and alternatives. (Some schools expect subject teaching to start in the first lesson, others encourage a few lessons of introduction & settling: NQTs won't know unless you tell them - preferably well in advance).

9. Don't take it personally if NQTs appear to ignore your advice: they might be following someone else's (conflicting) guidance, but they also need to find their own path and make some of those rookie errors!

10. Remind your NQT to prioritise (within reason) their own well being (sleep, food, exercise, friends / family) over work - frequently, realistically and, if necessary, forcefully. They might need practical suggestions about how to do this, and your experience of time management, prioritising, shortcuts and knowing when 'okay' is good enough will be invaluable.

11. Help them to make mistakes positively. There will be so many mistakes - mostly small, some big - and how they're received by others will make all the difference.

12. Don't underestimate how grateful, humbled and inspired NQTs often feel when cheerfully and sensitively well-supported by their colleagues. It's a tough year, and can't be survived - or enjoyed - alone!

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Are you an NQT, or do you work with them? Share your experiences in the comments.

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